Dubious (The Loan Shark Duet #1)
By Charmaine Pauls
Originally Published October 12th, 2017
Dual POV, First Person
I read a lot of Dark Romance, and spend more time than probably healthy imagining moving to a city that has actual Mafia and seeing if I can snag a made man. Obviously, I'm joking (mostly). But, my point is I read a lot of Mafia Romance and after finishing this book I am not sure where to even begin.
Let's talk about characters. Gabriel is a loan shark with a dark reputation for broken bones and messy deaths. A scarred man, ugly even. Valentina is the shunned daughter of a dead mafia man, eeking out a meager living for she and her brain-damaged brother.
Collecting a debt, Gabriel intends to kill Valentina and her brother but finds himself offering her a deal instead. She is to come and be his family's new maid for ten years to pay off the debt owed. With no other choice, Valentina accepts and so begins the dark and twisty road that is this duet.
Set in South Africa, a rarity for romance books I've read, I found my lack of knowledge of the setting (cities and towns in South Africa, etc.) made my experience even more ... intense? It's hard for me to put down words for this, but I felt a little off-kilter the whole time because none of the cities were as familiar as, say, New York would have been. Like Valentina, it took me a long time to get my bearings.
Almost immediately, Valentina is subjected to Gabriel's ministrations, his grooming, and Pauls writes this dark descent into a sub/dom relationship with a clinical kind of writing that at first was unsettling but ultimately became a tedious script of intimacy and need. I would also like to warn you of possible triggers in this book. Grooming, assault, rape, animal cruelty (a quick instance, but the whole book is filled with Valentina caring for animals otherwise), mentally handicapped (he is not necessarily mistreated but is scared a few times and I just want to warn anyone this might upset), and very rough sex. Dubious might be the most dubious book I've read in a while, and it had me see-sawing between I'm into it--nevermind I'm not. It does end on a cliffhanger, is a pretty hefty book, and did feel like quite an undertaking while reading. I am not in love with these characters, but there is something so magnetic about their relationship that I simply have to know how their story ends.